Read a book.

“How can I increase my vocabulary,” is a frequently-asked-question for English as a Second Language teachers, along with “how can I get better at grammar?” For my part, the answer to both questions is one and the same: read a book. Throughout my career as an English teacher, I’ve observed that students who excel at expressing themselves in both written and spoken language are invariably the readers. Of course there are countless internet-based resources with both online exercises and printable worksheets, but how truly effective are they? The third method described by Bo Lundahl as “deliberate/intentional vocabulary learning”[1] is the most straightforward method, as one simply, “[studies] words and phrases and [tries] to learn them.“ (Lundahl 2012: 338) This was the method used when I was in high school. We were required to buy a vocabulary book containing lists of words that we were expected to memorize the spelling, definitions, and the usage of, and which we would be tested on every week. It was an unreservedly and relentlessly dull way to learn the vocabulary we needed to know for the verbal section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).[2] These were words like microcosm, demonstrative, problematize and other words that are almost never used outside of academia and which we would forget one nanosecond after the exam was over.

Leo Van Lier would certainly agree that this deliberate/intentional method is an inauthentic (read: unnatural) way of learning vocabulary. In his chapter concerning authenticity, Van Lier clarifies that in order for the classroom to “become more ‘natural,’ [it] must try to be less like a classroom, and more like some other place.” (Van Lier 1996: 123) What, then, would be considered an authentic way of learning vocabulary? The answer is, once again, read a book. Read books written in English. Read them in some other place besides the classroom and read them often. The more you see the English language written in its correct form, with correct spelling, usage, and context, the better you will get at both English vocabulary and English grammar. Adding listening into the mix incorporates the elements of pronunciation and intonation, leading further to total mastery of the language. This is Lundahl’s number one vocabulary learning method, described as “listening and reading when the focus is on the content (learning vocabulary from meaning-focused input).” (Lundahl 2012: 338) Using text-to-speech while simultaneously reading a text is the way I personally read online Swedish texts. (Unfortunately, this method does not work very well with printed books.)

Lundahl’s second method of learning vocabulary is described as “talking and writing when the focus is on the content (learning vocabulary from meaning-focused output)” (Lundahl 2012: 338). In other words, this is a dialectical/discussion based method of learning new vocabulary and concepts. The teaching methodology I trained in originally focused on this kind of learning, so I used this method extensively during my first years of teaching undergraduates. I would assign the students a text, for which we would have a guided discussion during lessons. After a couple of weeks of this process, the students would write a short argumentative paper relating to the topics we had covered. Inciting critical thinking skills was a part of the curriculum so this method served that requirement well. Of course these students were all native speakers at the university level, so it is important to keep in mind that this method is perhaps a little too advanced for younger students. However, I have used this method with great success in more advanced levels. (English C/D/E and English 7) It really stimulates and engages the students and gets them thinking.

In Ulrika Tornberg’s chapter on memory and the learning of words (Chapter 7) she goes a step further than Lundahl’s three methods of learning new words and concepts, and discusses specific methods for assimilating new vocabulary. According to Tornberg, “the fact that we understand a word with the help of clues or dictionaries does not mean that we also know it. The knowledge we have today about how our memory works leads to the realization that word learning is a creative process with several steps. The word must first be coded in a conscious way in order to then be able to pick it up again.” (Tornberg 2020: 140) To continue with the computer analogy, the only way to truly know a new word is to program it into the brain in a way that leads to its retention, unlike the deliberate/intentional method, which does not lead to retention because (for which I ask your forgiveness) retention is not the intention.

In order to determine the ideal way of programming one’s brain, it’s important to be aware of one’s individual learning aptitudes or intelligences. Torberg lists these as:

  1. Linguistic intelligence
  2. Logistical/mathematical intelligence
  3. Visual/spatial intelligence
  4. Musical intelligence
  5. Kinesthetic intelligence  (Tornberg 2020: 141)

There are plenty of online surveys/quizzes designed to reveal one’s intelligence aptitudes.[3] I discovered that I have a high degree of musical intelligence, followed closely by linguistic intelligence. This makes perfect sense because I’ve been musical my entire life, and I’m always humming/singing/whistling, and making up songs about my cat. According to Tornberg, a person with a high degree of musical intelligence “might encode words using music or by rapping or rhyming.” (Tornberg 2020: 141) Incorporating music and movement into lessons is of course a well-established pedagogical practice, but it is mostly used for small children. If an ESL student is really struggling with learning new vocabulary, I would suggest singing it, even if it feels childish. I asked my Swedish husband about a particularly effective teacher he had, and he mentioned his high school German teacher. She told them at the start of the term that she was going to teach them like they were small children, which I’m sure some of them were not entirely comfortable with, but her methods ended up being extraordinarily effective. So, why not try a few songs, rhymes, and games for third year upper-secondary students – after reassuring them that, look, you know it seems weird, but trust you, it works.


Lundahl, B. Engelsk språkdidaktik: texter, kommunikation, språkutveckling. 3:e uppl. Lund: Studentlitteratur. 2012

Tornberg, U. Språkdidaktik. 6:e uppl. Malmö: Gleerups. 2020

Van Lier, Leo. “Interaction in the language curriculum: awareness, autonomy, and authenticity.” Applied linguistics and language study. London: Longman. 1996

[1] All citations from Lundahl and Tornberg are translated.

[2] The satirical dictionary website Urban Dictionary defines SAT, among other ways, as: 1) A bullshit exam which doesn’t test anything, be it IQ, creativity, personality, or potential college performance” and 3) Is a major cause of teenage suicide in America.

[3] This is the one I used:

Failure is an option…

…and a viable one, at that.

Content wise, I have been resisting the urge to push links to other stories and articles.  We did that in KangWorld, which was fine, but Random Misanthrope is more about us and less about everyone else. Every now and then, I’ll stumble across a story and think “Hmmm…this needs to be shared” and then nope away from it because it’s not in scope; not what this iteration of Kang’s int4rw3bz fuckery is about.

Today, I’m breaking the law.  I’m washing the dog.  I’m being an editorial rebel because I just (fo realsies and shit) finished reading an article that was like an egg beater to the brain.  A much needed kick in the pants for me, at the very least.  A sorely needed reminder that it’s perfectly fine to fall flat on your face, owning it is good and sharing the failure is even better.

Professional Kang has never had a problem with owning her mistakes. Early in her career, she learned it’s an admirable trait and people appreciate honesty, chutzpah and the willingness to right the wrong. Personal Kang loathes failure.  In fact, she lives in visceral fear of it. Why she cannot apply what works so well for her professionally to her personal life is something she struggles with daily; especially since she knows she really is far too intelligent to have such a significant mental disconnect blocking her on-ramp to Happiness Highway.  :vomits in mouth a little:

With that blather done and addressed, I’ll get to the good stuff:  the article in The Guardian titled “My big fail:  losers come clean on their all-time low.”  I tried looking for a few passages to pull out as a teaser and, really, I don’t think it’s fair to the article to do that. Everything is compelling and to snag a snippet for click-bait would be…meh.  Not to mention, each of the vignettes deserves its full due.  I suppose the only thing I could really carve out and leave as a point to ponder is this:

“A failure isn’t always big. It might just be a realisation that you could be doing better things with your life.”

Ahead of me, tomorrow, is a long drive home to Philly with my ever-present sidekick, the Milkfaced One.  At some point, as we molder on I-95 in Virginia, he will fall asleep and I’ll be left with some quiet time to climb up into my brain and over-think just about everything in my life as I’m wont to do.  I will be revisiting my friend, The Big Bewildered Bunny of Borås.  I will be intensely auditing the past six or seven weeks of the clichéd “new normal.”  I will be wondering how and why it is that I use the right words on the wrong people and what I can do to correct that timesuck.  There’s nothing quite like the breakdown (or epic fail) of a major relationship in your life to get you thinking about all of your relationships with everyone else.  Who is worth the time?  Who isn’t? Now that you find yourself feeling pain, are you inflicting it on others and what the fuck are you going to do about that, sugartits, because that’s not a good way to go through life?

Then, I’m going to do something very bold:  I’m going to ask myself the question “What’s it going to take to make you happy?”  Supremely happy.  Because I have learned two things as I adjust to the “new normal” and they are:

  1. Happiness:  it’s mine for the taking.
  2. Failure:  just a synonym for opportunity.

Bibliomania: In Pursuit of the Book

I’ve always been a bibliophile.  I love reading.  I love walking into libraries and book shops, browsing endless rows of books, stacked from the bottom of the floor to the top of the ceiling.  I fear that one day I will be killed by a bookshelf falling on me, but what a death that would be!  Alas, they will say, “he loved books and they killed him.”  I can think of no better epitaph than that.

Recently, I’ve taken up the obsession of book collecting, a noble pursuit, and one that is filled with many mysteries.  Few creatures are as misunderstood as the book collector, and especially the ones of the antiquarian kind.  They have their own language, and not many understand their bibliomania.  Most are not in it for the money, but for the passion, for the pursuit of that elusive book that haunts them late at night.  Is it a first edition they seek?  Is it a signed copy?  Is it just the name of the author that drives them to despair?  They must possess this treasure at seemingly any cost or detriment to their mental sanity; like a CERN scientist chasing neutrinos with chalked hands and a collider.

No doubt you are thinking, “well what book do you seek, good Sir?”  I shall tell you, it is a signed first edition of Damn Rare: The Memoirs of an African-American Bibliophile by Charles L. Blockson.  The irony is not lost on me that I’m searching for a rare book written by a rare bibliophile with “rare” in the title.

 Damn Rare: The Memoirs of an African-American Bibliophile



In my first attempt to locate this book and read it, I scoured my public library, but to no avail.  Not even through an inter-library loan could a copy be found.  The nearest library that actually has a copy is in Champaign-Urbana, a good 45 minutes drive away, and this being an academic library I can not check it out without being a student or faculty of the university − for shame!  Searches on AbeBooks and Amazon give me prices ranging from $30 to $130 dollars should I wish to purchase a copy.  This cements my theory that  the book is a rarity indeed, for why else would it be so expensive?  I must now commit my time and energy to tracking down a copy of this book and I will keep you posted on my progress.

Books are made of…

Books are made of paper,
And lots of ink and glue.
But they’re also,
Made of happiness.
And fear and sadness too.
Books are made of pictures,
And lots of different text.
But they’re also,
Made of anger,
And joy and pain and sex.
Books are made of memories,
And books are made of love,
Books are really,
So much more,
Than the paper they’re made of.


Magic. Pure fucking unadulterated magic.
That’s what books were to me.
From day one, as long back as I can remember.

My mom bought us a whole collection of Dr.Seuss.
It came in a giant cardboard house. Well, giant to me.
This would have been about 1970. I was 9 by then,
and while I loved them, they were geared more towards my younger siblings.
I was already devouring comic books, dipping my nose into the daily paper,
and beginning my collection of small books, condensed verions of classics.
I had discovered the Illusrated Classics collection, but there was also a series of smaller,
thicker animated books. I remember I had a version of Jules Vernes’ Voyage to The Bottom of The Sea.

When I look back now, rhyme writer that I am, I know I got a large amount of my sense of rhythm from Seuss, and a large part of my vocabulary from comicbooks. Just the other day I found myself using the exclamation  “egads!”

I remained a voracious reader through my young teenage years, and though never much of a thief, I have to admit (not proudly) that I stole many books from Sanderson Library, the local library at Bathurst and Dundas in Toronto, beside my school, Ryerson Public. It wasn’t stealing just to steal  either. I was driven by a need to escape into these books.

I don’t remember when I discovered Shakespeare, although I know it was in public school.

I recall that we saw a version of Midsummer Night’s Dream played out in the gymnasium. Instead of the action taking place up on the stage, it was staged in the middle of the large room, with we students sitting around the action on the floor, so we really felt like we were part of the action.

That must have been in grade 5 or so, because for Christmas when I was in grade seven my mother got me a two volume set of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. I was absolutely enthralled. I can’t tell you that I read the whole thing cover to cover, but I made a damned good attempt. I was fascinated, with both the plays and the sonnets.

I remember relishing each and every book or play we studied in school: Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet,  To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in The Rye, Lord of The Flies, Macbeth. Wonderful, each and every one of them.

When I was 17 I read The Hobbit and the succeeding Lord of The Ring trilogy. Entranced, absolutely entranced. Read them straight through, and remember crying my eyes out at the end, so shattered was I that Samwise got stuck back in the Shire at the end. Only later would I realize how necessary this was.

Reading became an active part of my adult life as well. I recall when I first read Robertson Davies’ Rebel Angels. It totally seized my imagination, and I read 9 of his books in a row. The remaining two in that trilogy (The Cornish Trilogy) and his other two trilogies, The Deptford Trilogy, and The Salterton Trilogy. Robertson Davies was as Canadian a man of letters as you can be. He was writing about his world, but he was writing about my world. It was exciting, and new, and old, and I recognized it, all at the same time.

The list of books is endless, Atwood, Robbins, Rushdie, cummings, Cohen, Blake, scores of biographies and poetry.

Books. An intricate part of my life, even up to today. Admittedly my reading has slowed somewhat, compared to what it used to be, but I usually have a couple of books on the go, both in Swedish and in English. Which is why it staggers me, disturbs me, and even frightens me, that it may not be so for the generations to come.

I may be over-reacting. I hope so, however I fear not. On a couple of occasions now I have marked that young people of my acquaintance, through friends and relatives, have a much lower level of literacy than I or my friends had at their age. I am not alone in this observation.  Last year the BBC ran a fabulous series entitled Why Reading Matters.

The series talks about the hidden benefits of reading, such as insight into others’ lifes and cultures, and the way it rewires our brains. Of course all of this was before the riots in England that happened in the past week. By now it is well known that looters overlooked stores such as Waterstones. A Waterstones employee is quoted on their Facebook page as saying “we’ll stay open, maybe if they steal a book they’ll learn something.” A glib statement in the heat of the moment perhaps, but one that carried with it a mutltude of truths.

Those people…

Have you ever bought a newspaper and then forget to read it?  This happens to me all the time, especially with my favorite Sunday Editions of The New York Times.   At $6 dollars each, they are as expensive as a paperback novel, and probably contain as much writing.  I enjoy the Sunday New York Times, even though a lot of my peers give me grief for its liberal bias.  So what?  I watch Fox News too, and you can’t say that they don’t have a conservative bias.  You see, there’s two sides to every story, and I enjoy reading, listening, and watching both the liberals and the conservatives.  This entire country was founded on discourse, debate, and heaven forbid, compromise.

At any rate, last night I was cleaning up the man cave and I stumbled across the March 13, 2011 edition of The New York Times.  Good grief, that was a while ago.  The paper is already fading as some papers tend to do under the elements and time.  I’m now catching up on the past if you will.

Turning the pages I come to the Weddings/Celebrations pages in the Sunday Styles section.  I don’t know why, but I read the fabulous wedding announcements and I can’t help wonder, who the hell are those people, or is it, these people?  They look great, and reading their short bios I’m intrigued by how the majority of them come from wealthy families and places, have super awesome jobs, and are genuinely, not like us.  I’m lucky if I find a good deal at an outlet store, and these people are sporting the finest linens.

Not that I’m jealous, I’m just wondering what it would take for my sons to make it to the back pages of The New York Times Style section.  This fills me with a certain amount of dread that perhaps I’m not providing enough for my family in order to have this kind of lavish lifestyle.  I am partially comforted by the fact that I am able to provide for my family, we have clothes on our back, food on the table, a roof over our heads, health insurance, and books, oh yes, lots of books.  And yet I wonder about those people…

The benefits of eBorrowing from your local library

As some of you might know I’m a bibliophile who is addicted to both print and ebooks.  I’m also a tech geek so I have an Amazon Kindle, an Asus Netbook, an Apple iPad, and a Sony Pocket eReader.  Though I love the smell, feel and look of real books, I am quite fond of the portability of electronic books.  The best part of having a Sony eReader is the fact that I can electronically check out a book from my local library.  Right now the selection is a bit limited, but I’m hoping as more and more people get eReaders, electronic borrowing from libraries will become more popular.  I particularly like the fact that with eborrowing I don’t have to get a library book that somebody abused.  I don’t know how many library books I have checked out that were stained, reeked of cigarette smoke, were falling apart, missing pages or were just plain nasty.  No such thing with eborrowing.

Another great thing about eborrowing is that you can get some of the latest bestsellers without having to pay for them, just like you would checking out the latest paperback from your local library (free is not exactly true because your taxes are paying for it, but you get what I’m trying to say, right?).  My local library, the Decatur Public Library, is part of the LibraryOnTheGo system.  This system allows library patrons to use their library card to check out ebooks for one or two weeks.  After that the books are no longer viewable on your electronic reader.  You can “check out” up to three books at a time, and just like a regular library book, you have the option of returning the books before your due date.  Returning ebooks electronically is a really neat feature because then you’re not stuck with having to wait to borrow a new book.

Eborrowing is very convenient.  If it’s pouring down rain outside and you don’t feel like trekking down to the library, it’s comforting to know that you can just borrow the latest bestseller from the confines of your own home and curl up on your sofa.  This is also very useful for people with mobility problems.  The LibraryOnTheGo also allows library patrons to download audiobooks and other media with their library card.  Pretty neat if you ask me.

If you don’t have a library card you can always find free ebooks online.  I visit the MobileRead Forums every day for book tips, news about electronic readers, and for suggestions of where to find free ebooks.  I suggest you check them out.  Happy reading!

WOTD: balaclava and other confusing words…

For some reason our British cousins have adopted this word, which according to Bill Bryson (author and keen observer of all things British from an American perspective), is a “truly bad word.” The American term is the decidedly less poetic but much clearer ski mask. Its “badness” lies in the fact that it really doesn’t sound like what it is:

“[It] could be almost anything – an obscure root vegetable, a type of geological formation peculiar to the Tibetian steppe, the basic unit of currenty in Albania, the sound of a large load of rocks coming out of the back of a dump truck, almost anything at all. It certainly doesn’t sound like something you would want to put on your head. No, the word you want for a kind of pull-down hat is haggis.”
Excerpt from I’m a Stranger Here Myself

He then goes on to explain that “haggis” has a warm and furry sound to it and that it doesn’t sound at all like a food. Furthermore, anyone who has ever tried it will attest that it doesn’t taste much like a food either.

This got me thinking about how many other words there are in the English language that don’t sound at all like what they are, and how confusing this can be for learners of it as a second language.

For example, why do we drive on the parkway, and park in the driveway?

Why do we say we’re getting ON or OFF the bus/train/plane when we’re really getting IN or OUT of it?

A pineapple is nothing like a pine nor like an apple. It doesn’t even come from a pine tree. How the hell did it get named that? And what about a grapefruit?

I’m sure there are many examples of weird words in Swedish as well, and the one I can think of at the moment is smörgås (sandwich) which translated literally into English means “butter goose.”

Finally, and with apologies for the indelicacy of the following language, why do we say we’re taking a shit when we’re actually LEAVING it?

Feel free to post your own examples of weird or inaccurate words in comments. Until next time…